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“Absolutely everything!” At least that’s the impression left by ads for cloud services with which we are regularly inundated. The definition of cloud and what it’s good for is still a puzzling concept for many, and to figure out how to put it to good use is unfortunately left to the everyday businessperson.

Cloud need not be a difficult concept that only technologists understand. In fact, it’s vital that the business heads understand what cloud is as a concept and how it can help.

Decisions on when to use cloud technologies in business should be made jointly between the C-levels, business/functional operating units, and the technology groups of a firm. The ultimate aim is to solve business problems, after all. The executive and C-suite must understand the related benefits, risks and parameters. All this begins with trying to come to grips with the term ‘cloud’ itself, and what it means.

The cloud is a concept

This statement deserves a quick walk down memory lane. The “cloud” is a concept, and not a thing. As a consumer, you don’t have to worry about what’s in the cloud or how it works. In a nutshell, it’s about abstraction – hiding away the details about how something works and only worrying about what goes in and out, like a black box of sorts. Historically, this pattern worked really well, and in a strange way, we’ve reverted to a very old way of doing things, but with the benefits of modern networks and really fast microprocessors.

Big computing

Quite literally, this is how it started, right from the 1940s – big machines that took up entire rooms. So, if you suspect the cloud is like the earlier days of mainframes, you’re absolutely right.Everything was done on large and powerful computers. The ‘dumb’ terminals as they were called were, well, really dumb. They were just mere access points to the computers that did all the number crunching, messaging and storage.

Democratizing it

The personal computer revolution really democratized the concept of computing and made it available to everyone. Users could ‘compute’, quite literally, at home. Then the internet accelerated the concept and democratized connectivity. Now, everyone could compute and connect from home. People weren’t shackled to offices in order to compute or connect.

Advancements in technology made it possible to realize the dream of a computing and connected citizen – technology that wasn’t available to the masses in the 70s and 80s, although the dream was still there.

Enter the mobile citizen

Shrinking and ever more powerful hardware has now allowed for an almost totally mobile computing experience. Laptops and tablets are now the norm in offices, which are often run out of coffee shops. Desktop sales have shrunk so drastically that the old stalwarts of operating systems and hardware have suffered massive losses and had to restructure their views of the world and businesses in order to adapt. Everything runs online. The details are hidden from the end user. The bottom line benefits are all the user cares about.

Everything has become centralized again, and rich mobile interfaces with fast connections create totally seamless computing experiences. It’s like you’re standing right next to the powerful computers that run the apps. Except you’re a thousand miles away.

Hiding the details

Cloud-based services hide the details of how they work, specifically the important aspects of reliability and scaling. Do you know how your packets are being routed from our servers to your screen? Internet routing protocols are meant to abstract that away from you and deliver on the expectation of a reliable experience on an end-to-end basis. The internet is essentially a connectivity cloud. Connectivity and delivery of packets are the service for that cloud.

The cloud principle of abstracting details away from the deliverable can be applied to other concepts. Since analogies and examples work really well, here are a few, as silly as they may seem:

  • Cloud finance and money: banks. Deposits and balances are available from any branch.
  • Cloud cooking: restaurants. Patrons aren’t told how the dish came from farm to table.
Part 2 in this series deals with the concept of virtualization and the potential this idea has on business.
Part 2 in this series deals with the concept of virtualization and the potential this idea has on business.Part 2: Isn’t everything online part of the cloud?

This series deals with the concept of virtualization and the potential this idea has on business.Part 3: Your identity dictates what you need

This series brings up the matter –probably the most important one in this discussion–of identifying internal needs and therefore who can help.

Part 4: The money questions

This series ties up the final matter of price and ties the series together into a whole.